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Do you need a Chief Social Officer?

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Do you need a Chief Social Officer?

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When managers talk about social media the debate still seems to revolve around external uses of social technologies.  This is typified by the kind of debate I participated in for Professional Manager back in February that asked whether social media was a waste of time.

If you flip things around however you can begin to appreciate how social media can be used as a collaboration tool.  I wrote recently about how successful Lego have been at harnessing the innovative thoughts of their customers to revive their fortunes in recent years.

Earlier this year Harvard identified six core principles of collaboration, whilst famously advocating the need for a Chief Collaboration Officer in 2009.

The Six Principles of Collaboration

  1. Participation – You want to encourage participation from across your organization. As we’ve seen from the experiment, this could involve you removing, or at least educating, people that don’t act collaboratively.
  2. Collective – As collaboration will involve taken relatively narrow perspectives and making them broad, you will need to help the group reach a consensus and then take action collectively on the decisions they make.
  3. Transparency – Feedback and trust are essential elements of collaboration. Being transparent with information is crucial if that is to be achieved. Make sure that all debates are had in the open and that the entire group has access to the latest information.
  4. Independence – James Surowiecki emphasized the importance of independent thought in his book Wisdom of Crowds, so you’ll need to ensure that group-think does not emerge and that people are thinking for themselves.
  5. Persistence – You will need to be persistent in your application of these principles, to ensure that all content is kept within the community and easily accessible to all members.
  6. Emergence – Remember that the point of mass collaboration is to achieve great results, so ensure you focus on the end goal rather than worrying about how that is achieved. You will need your collaborative community to set their own goals and objectives.
As with many major change project, social businesses work best when the change becomes a part of the culture of the organisation.  It's no good having a 'social media expert' as that implies that social media is the role of one individual rather than something that everyone should participate in.
To achieve the wins that are possible you need to get social out of the siloes.  Of course IT will get involved as software is an inevitable part of this.  Marketing are also likely to play a part as they should have experience of using social to engage with customers, whilst HR should have a seat at the table because collaboration is their brief.
With something that touches so many parts of the business, who therefore should be responsible for it but a Chief Social Officer?  Such an individual would ensure that you have a clear strategy for your social media rather than adopting the build it and pray approach that so many still persist with.
The goal is ostensibly to make social communication and collaboration — wherever is happens within and across the company — consistent, unified, and manageable in terms of process, policy, and toolset.
Just as a decade or so ago IT became so central to the functioning of a modern enterprise that it warranted a new executive position, with most companies now having a CIO in place to manage their IT needs. In the future, if not in the present, everyone will have a CSO on their boards.
Having someone who's sole responsibility is social collaboration will enable you to build customer eco-systems to engage your customers in the innovation process, whilst building a sufficiently networked organisation to foster collaboration between employees as well.  
It should be said that right now very few executives seem to grasp this opportunity.  Certainly very few are actually using social media themselves, so for those that are ready to grasp the nettle and unleash the intellects of both their employees and their other stakeholders, the rewards can be substantial indeed.
Are you ready?

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